How Do You Take Over Your Adversary’s Drone? A Holiday’s Shoot-The-Shit…

Part of what I enjoy most about the Holiday Season is sitting down with the “brus” putting a few down the hatch while engaging in, what military parlance defines as, a shoot-the-shit. Shoot-the-shits may involve a cigar or two, some discussion of the female anatomy followed by a prolonged treatise of a subject that you generally know little about; it’s all good, builds comradery and you never walk away with an answer because it may need to be discussed at subsequent shoot-the-shits.

This year, the shoot-the-shit was the CIA operated RQ-170 drone captured by Iran. The pivotal, shoot-the-shit, question was how the “f–k” does that happen? Well, the details supplied by the CIA suggest the operations center lost communications with the drone and the drone continued to fly until it ran out of fuel and subsequently crashing. On the other hand, the Iranian government’s statement alleges they took control of the drone and flew it down. They support this allegation with photographs and videos of the RQ-170, in their hands, virtually unharmed (perhaps they have highly skill fender and body technicians). So, who do you believe?

Well, my position is believe what you want to believe, but do you have a legitimate right to know, and I think the answer is NO; however, this was a shoot-the-shit so it had to be hashed out.

So, are we so incompetent as to let an RQ-170 go on an intelligence gathering mission and fall into an enemy’s hands? Yes we could be, or perhaps the objective was to assess Iranian defensive capabilities against stealth aircraft, or perhaps, we’d like Iran to “acquire” intelligence that is unreliable. How did the Iranian military detect the drone. The RQ-170 has a ceiling in excess of 40,000 feet. There are numerous possibilities but here are some of my thoughts.

Could the Iranian’s actually detect and possess the technology to take over a stealth drone? Well, may be, but how would you go about doing that? Here’s one theory.

  • Use jamming against the communications channel. Even if the jamming is not designed to be specific, it can still reduce the signal-to-noise ration sufficiently to disrupt communications. Once communications is disrupted you attack the GPS using a process called spoofing. Spoofing involves getting a GPS receiver to lock on to a bogus signal which then introduces a deceptive signal delay (which is how GPS works) and in the process misleading the drone’s guidance system. The drone’s own guidance system and / or auto pilot corrects it’s flight path to get back where it needs to be. However, that correction is where the enemy wants it to be rather than where the CIA wants it to be. Other than overcoming GPS encryption issues, we aren’t talking about Star Wars stuff. Maybe the jamming signal also impacted GPS reception, on the military navigational system, and the drone’s GPS falls back to a commercial GPS satellite network, which can then be readily attacked.

Rest assured that all sides are looking at this very closely and the combinations and permutations of the event are probably endless.

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1 Response to How Do You Take Over Your Adversary’s Drone? A Holiday’s Shoot-The-Shit…

  1. 67W says:

    If U.S. and Israeli intel want to “prime” the international opinion pump with reasons and revelations of what they know of Iranian nuclear intentions, and to set the logic in motion for responding to Iranian war mongering that further sanctions will cause them to close the Strait of Hormuz, US intel needed to disclose credible sources for their posture. Much like molding and casting the diplomatic preamble to Libyan intervention, and getting Arab states to join in that intervention, a carefully crafted “mistake” and loss of a supposedly highly secret UAV was needed to set world opinion in favor of a preemptive attack on Iran nuclear facilities. The RQ-170 would be “lost” due to a malfunction and deliberately set down in Iran nearly intact. This sets the stage for Iran to boast about the capture and thereby confirm they know they are being watched very carefully. The ruse has been in the making for sometime with peekaboo photos and teaser press releases. Without showing the world the photos and surveillance data proof, the U.S. has craftily put Iran in a “can’t deny it” role on the world stage without our revealing to Iran all the nuclear facilities we know about. For credibility some old UAV technology and the GPS coordinates of some nuclear sites were likely incorporated in the ruse.

    The timing of the ruse points toward the Iranians completing their nuclear non-peaceful intentions in the near future. A Predator C Avenger attack would be the platform of choice. Disclosure of one (1) Avenger going to Afghanistan would hide the presence of dozens of Avengers massing for an attack. Look for three carrier battle groups coming into the western Indian Ocean where they can protect allies and assets. Whiteman AFB (home of the B2) will spin-up and pre-position tankers along the flight path. Manned flights will be the “reserves” for the armed UAVs. SecDef wasn’t joking when he said no option was off the table in stopping Iran’s ambitions for nuclear weapons. Israeli forces would have struck sooner were they NOT confident the US had the intel and the means of stopping the Iranians. Stuxnet was slow-pitch softball. Fast-pitch hardball is next.

    I’m thinking the US and Israel know they have to stop Iran much sooner, therefore the RQ-170 ruse to build a scenario of proof we know exactly what and where they are doing nuclear weapons development. SecDef blatantly stated that US drone monitoring would continue uninterrupted over Iran. Hardly the posture of someone afraid that the technology had been compromised to the point that he needed a different set of arrows in his quiver. Obama asking Iran to return the Sentinel was part and parcel of the wringing of hands to lend credibility to the ruse. He needed to do so, so that the Iranians would tell the world they would reverse-engineer the “captured” drone. I wonder just how many “blind alleys” and “dead-ends” could be sown in Russia and China R&D labs with just one carefully designed decoy? A “Honey-pot” opportunity to baffle the scientists and engineers for years. You have got to believe the CIA is laughing all the way home. They took the bait and likely will scrap other more promising avenues of exploration. Stir the pot with the real thing and decoys, and separating them becomes a needle-in-the-haystack time-consuming effort. If all that is fielded is real, what a waste of opportunity! Plastic molded drones are comparatively cheap to fabricate with the sensors molded right into the plastic. Manned aircraft have to have the real technology onboard, but unmanned drones mean it ain’t necessarily so.


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